By Rosemary Liss, Co-Owner, Le Comptoir du Vin

+candlelit breakfasts
+West Wing walk-and-talks
+cannellini beans with EVOO and salt
+Friendship Radio
+deleting instagram on days off
+Finishing books

+Black Feast
+Mera Kitchen Collective
+tracee ellis ross
Le Comptoir du Vin is open Thursday to Sunday from 12pm to 6pm for in-store shopping and take away. The Sandwich of Jambon-Beurre w/ Raclette is one of the best things we've had this month (well worth a 45 minute drive, no question).

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Joan Hates Online Poker

Joan Hates Online Poker
By Jeff Segal, Owner, Domestique
I got into a shouting match with my grandmother, Joan, at my younger brother’s high school graduation dinner about whether online poker was a career. It was the early 2000s, the Chris Moneymaker days, and a few friends of mine had dropped out of college to make lots of money playing cards in front of a computer screen. Joan was unrelenting. She bellowed about value creation, communities, the fabric of society. I was a young, dumb contrarian and probably yelled the phrase “internet economy.” We retreated to the bar to let the rest of the table eat in peace, she ordered two scotches, and we moved on. 
I’ve been thinking about that argument from almost two decades ago. The places that we’ve always gone to escape daily life are shuttered, or transformed by plexiglass and tape on the floor. Small businesses that were built to support people and communities have become lean operations that take online orders and pack boxes.
Our days at the shop look very different now. We’re up earlier in the morning. Most of our time used to be spent talking to customers in our “library,” hosting tastings, enjoying the way that people navigate a wine shop when they don’t have time constraints. Now we spend most of our time pulling orders, boxing them up, and dispatching them for delivery (or putting them by the door for pickup). We do in-store shopping by appointment only, one person at a time, and the phone never stops ringing, but the balance of time has definitely shifted from the customer toward the logistical. 
That’s what being a brick and mortar retailer means in the era of COVID. But it’s also why brick and mortar retail matters more now than ever. There’s a new wave of online-only natural wine shops that have cropped up over the past six months. You know them, they’re the ones you see in your Instagram ‘Explore’ tab with lots of portrait mode shots, all selling the same bottles of “low intervention” wine (h/t Guilhaume, above). They’re usually one-person operations run out of a warehouse but with a wholesome front end. They’re the online poker players of wine retail.
Buying wine at good retail shops is largely what made me fall in love with wine. There have been a few that really, truly impacted my life: Village Corner in Ann Arbor, Chambers Street in New York, and Bi-Rite in San Francisco. Wine retail is special because buying wine is so fucking intimidating for most people. The best shops immediately put you at ease. They have incredible employees, that’s rule number one. Often they're people whose true love is music or art or literature (or some random shit, like charting tides or collecting old tractor parts) and yet they ended up selling wine. They don’t rush you, they focus on the atmosphere and not the transaction, they show you that wine is a beverage and not an idol. Sometimes the shops are messy, sometimes they’re clean, but they exist and take up space and they’re real.
We are undoubtedly real. We rent thousands of square feet of high-ceilinged, light-filled real estate. We have 12 employees. We have a cellar full of rare wines that we don’t plan on selling anytime soon. We have hundreds of vinyl records and beautiful stools and posters from natural wine fairs. We have a dishwasher and a bathroom. We keep our wine in beautiful white oak shelves made from old barns and not inside a locker in a dank fulfillment warehouse.
We’re training the people who will be the (much improved) future of wine. We invest in our community, whether it’s Manny from down the block who cleans and builds pallets for us, or our monthly donations to SOME. We’ve created a purposeful space that’s meant to be evocative. It stands for more than wine. And so do we. It’s not just us, of course. Some version of this is true for all wine retailers that have a vision and care about their craft.
Joan was right. There’s a difference between a transaction, the movement of money, and a business that creates value outside of itself. And even if it’s more packing boxes and less hanging out these days, we’re more glad than ever to be a brick and mortar shop.

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You Can't Really Explain a Bottle of Wine

You Can't Really Explain a Bottle of Wine  
By Peter Pastan, Owner, 2AMYS
Apparently, I have an issue with garbage. Maybe it has something to do with working in restaurants. The first task I learned at my first restaurant job was breaking down boxes. I’m still really annoyed when I see a dumpster full of whole boxes.

I started taking pictures of my bottle recycling on March 31, 2013. I was relatively new to Instagram and my DIL had to explain the concept of a hashtag to me. I’m still not sure that I use them correctly, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. There were so many Instagram pictures of trophy bottles — so carefully composed and so uninteresting — that I thought garbage might tell another side of the story, but I really don’t remember taking the first picture. Part of me wanted to push back a bit and find a fun way to tease people about the preciousness of what they were drinking. Unicorn bottles were big then. Initially, my posts were not really reflective of that week’s drinking (I don’t think I ever drank four bottles of Monfortino in a seven-day period), and it took a while to settle on a hashtag (#sundaynightrecycling). It’s become a nice way to remember what I was drinking without silly tasting notes. I’m not particularly good with my phone (iPhone 6E), so many of the pictures are out of focus and the lighting is terrible. I try not to edit much as it seems to defeat the whole purpose and I don’t like wordy Instagram posts. It’s a visual app.

I also have a thing about Roman trash trucks. I love the Roma sanitation department logo, which is a combination of a hand and the sun. I think it’s good to have some specific themes to post: empty bottles, trash trucks, and pictures of just-eaten plates of food. It’s more about the memory than the thing. For a while I took compost pictures (#mondaynightcomposting). I liked the way you could imagine a meal by looking at the sequence of what was discarded. Before that, I took pictures of my striped socks (#washingtoncolorschool) but this didn’t seem to resonate with many people. Twenty-five years ago, I was invited to participate in a fundraiser for a Lawyers for the Arts organization (perhaps the last group of people that needed to hold a fundraiser, but I did get to meet Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus). I made “Mark Rothko” sandwiches (olive paste, anchovy, and a sliver of tuna belly) on toast (I lifted the idea from E A. Carmine, Jr.’s article “The Sandwiches of the Artists,” — October, Vol. 16, Art World Follies (Spring, 1981), pp. 87-101— which I strongly recommend). We were really in the weeds, making all that toast, and people kept asking how we knew it was Rothko’s favorite sandwich. We also had a vat of lemonade with an upside- down, glow-in-the-dark crucifix. We called it Lemonade Christ, which really confused people as well. You can’t really explain a joke, and you can’t really explain why someone should like a bottle of wine. But having shared many wines with many people, I know that when you see a particular bottle in the trash it can trigger memories of sharing that bottle of wine with a particular person. It’s a nonverbal way to connect with friends and remember past joys.
2AMYS is open for takeout and everything can be ordered online, from the classics like suppli to a few surprises too.

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On Authenticity and the Real-Real

On Authenticity and the Real-Real
By Genevieve Villamora, Co-Owner, Bad Saint 
Reading the news these days makes me feel like our country is in a wrestling match with itself.

What is democracy? What makes someone an American?

What is real? What are facts?

I’ve thought a lot lately about how hard I’ve worked to feel like I belong in the country where I was born.

I wasted much of my youth wanting to be someone else. I wanted to be an Irish stepdancer, with the velvet embroidered dress, red hair, and freckles. I thought these totems would get me “in” with the cool kids at my Catholic school in Chicago.

I thought authenticity was something judged by other people. Show me you can fit in. Show me you deserve to sit next to me on the bus. Prove to me that you should be here.

It’s a sentiment that has echoed through most of my adult life. When people question my knowledge and my right to be in the room, the last thing I am is surprised.

When we opened a Filipino restaurant in 2015, I thought it would be different. Instead, many non-Filipinos tried to educate me about my own culture. Kababayan, fellow Pin@ys, told me that the food wasn’t Filipino enough. It prompted a lot of soul-searching about what it takes to be “authentic” in others’ eyes.

I’m done using others’ yardsticks to measure my life. This restaurant has given me the gift of realizing that no one else can tell me how to be Pin@y and no one else gets to judge whether I am Filipino “enough.” Self-definition is a superpower.

Others’ obsession with authenticity (the “most Filipino Filipino food,” “real Americans,” etc.) doesn’t suck me in anymore. It’s a distraction and a zero-sum game that denies our reality: human beings are messy, complex, and ever-evolving.

As we muddle through the apocalypse, I’m rooted by my experiences of true connection with other people. Walks with my son in Rock Creek Park. A phone call with a friend. Sharing our backyard produce with our neighbors.

What is really real?

People and experiences that make us feel connected, loved, and human. Those are the stars I’m using to guide me through this expedition.
Bad Saint currently does dinner takeout Friday and Saturday and breakfast takeout Sunday and Monday. They also have a Karma Farm Produce Box that is AMAZING. 

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By Guilhaume Gerard, Partner and Co-Founder, Selection Massale 

There are a few terms within the natural wine marketing world that I don't really get. The idea of "nothing added, nothing taken away" is one -- a cute, romantic idea but, no, the wine doesn't make itself. Zero zero (aka how to strip away taste and preference and replace them with a Parker-esque number) is another. The one that baffles me the most is low intervention, or whatever variance on non-interventionism is à la mode right now.

It's been around for quite some time and while I'm certainly all for less manipulation, less synthetics, less (or no) additions in the vineyards or to the wines themselves, I feel like there's a bit of a misunderstanding about the whole concept. Maybe it's just me, but when I visit a producer (the literal basic task of my job as an importer), I don't really get the feeling that many vignerons are non-interventioning all day. I've been on the road for about 11 years now. More or less three to four months a year, a visit or two a day, and with all the winemakers I visit (those I import, those I admire, even those I think are complete frauds), nobody talks about that idea. Well, actually, there is always one exception to the rule.

It was 2008. I was visiting a couple producers with friends and we spent some time with one, maybe the father of all non-interventionists: a truly, really lazy dude. My understanding is that his dad had bought him something like five hectares of vines and a big house. The house itself was quite non-interventionist too, or falling apart, whatever you want to call it. This genius zero zero intervention winemaker managed to completely ruin the whole operation within a few years. It was pruning season (if you were really, really late) when I was there, and he just couldn't get his ass out of bed. One morning while he was still asleep, drunk from the previous night, I kicked in the door of his cellar to find just about the dirtiest operation I've come across. Fruit flies copulating around every single fiberglass tank, rotten grapes from the previous harvest, leaking valves, and all that great zero zero turning into vinegar. It's still in fashion, I understand, that halfway to vinegar, and maybe I'm just being the new curmudgeon (Rest in Peace to the OG) but I still like the idea of wine tasting good.

I've also met a few vignerons that I think are actually creative and manage to deal with difficult vintages or fermentations by intervening without opening the door to yeasts, excessive amounts of sulfur, or lysozymes and all that crap. A couple of them, one in Cheverny, the other in Ontario, often use clean, fresh fermenting musts to help finish or clean a struggling fermentation. I was once told by a natty advocate that this was almost criminal and a big "no no" in their opinion and that the natty thing to do would be to let the petri dish of a wine develop fully in barrel until some newbie drinker decides that brett-infused, mousey juice is terroir and that flaws are a bourgeois concept.

So, no, I don't like non-interventionism, not in the vineyard where it takes so much more thought and work to farm organically, and not in the cellar, where non-intervention on a wine too often means letting it become vinegar. Making wine isn't about not intervening, it's about intervening at the right time, for the right reasons. It's about being smart about it, finding creative ways, making the right call, managing to avoid making plonk without using the pallet of oenological products available to you through the oenologists always advocating for more standardized, boring wine. There is a way beyond industrial plonk and vinegar: it's called good winemaking -- good natural winemaking even.

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Fermentation is Life, Life is Fermentation

Fermentation is Life, Life is Fermentation

Since the beginning of the pandemic, my kitchen has slowly been converted into a fermentation lab. I have two different sourdough starters, acetobacter fermented pickles, Koji mold rice, and, most recently, I got into making Jun (a type of Kombucha). Jun is the one fermented product that I find the most interesting. In order for Jun to become sparkling, the fermentation has to finish in the bottle under a crown cap. Because of the closed environment, that lovely byproduct of fermentation, CO2, is forced into the liquid and it becomes bubbles.

Microorganisms are just like us in many ways, they are alive. They eat, drink, inhale oxygen, and exhale carbon dioxide. Fermentation in the bottle is life under pressure, and it's what gives us bubbles.

Next time you enjoy a glass of fizzy goodness, be it pet nat, other sparkling wine, or kombucha, remember, it has bubbles because the yeast was forced to stay inside too.

- Vitalii Dascaliuc

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Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

I've been thinking a lot recently about rituals. As humans, we perform rituals because they help us structure and control our inherently chaotic existence and confront the illusion of time. We make coffee at 7:05am every morning, we purge our closets when spring arrives, we always read the Style section first on Thursdays. 

Celebrations are built upon ritual. My older son, Nat, is going to turn five years old in a few weeks. He's at that age where birthdays take on supreme significance. He's been looking forward to his birthday for six months now. About two months ago, he started telling me, "Dad, Coronavirus will definitely be done by the time it's my birthday." And then a few weeks ago, it changed to, "Dad, I think it will be okay if I can't have a big party with my friends, as long as we celebrate at home and I still get a Nerf blaster."

The other day at our house, we saw our next door neighbors outside playing a game with their kids and one other family. They were all wearing the same color. Nat stood at the window watching intently, not saying a word (which never, ever happens) as the small party pinned tails on paper dinosaurs and ate cupcakes and danced. He seemed shaken, pensive, but also oddly accepting, despite the fact that he hasn't seen a friend in person in almost three months. That acceptance was crushing. Eventually Nat walked away from the window and quietly sat down to dinner. We realized it was the neighbor's eldest son's fifth birthday that day.

Alcohol and ritual go hand in hand. Champagne toasts at weddings, beers after a long bike ride, whiskey shots on birthdays, bottles emptied onto the street for lost friends. Business deals and Roman sacrifices alike revolve around the presence of alcohol.

One thing that we've been focused on learning more about recently is sake. I'll readily admit that sake is the area of beverage that I know the least about. It's always intimidated me somewhat. The other week, I was having a discussion with Lane Harlan of Baltimore's Fadensonnen, a beautiful natural wine and sake bar, and she touched upon the value of serving rituals for sake. Lane explained how, from ceramic drinkware to how it's poured to careful manipulation of temperature, ritual is closely tied to the sensory experience of sake. That ritual is likely much of the reason for my intimidation.

And below we're lucky to have Monica Samuels, one of the world's leading sake experts, writing about the confluence of Japanese sake and natural wine. She picks out a few sakes to help guide any natural wine drinkers, like us, who may be newer to the experience.

One of the many things we've lost because of COVID-19 is ritual, especially the ritual of celebration. There are no weddings, bars, or funerals. But we have a chance to find some new, slower rituals these days. At our house, we'll be having "corn-a-macob" and steak for Nat's birthday, at his request.  Because a June birthday also means the beginning of summer, and all of the rituals that that entails. Hopefully we'll carry some of these smaller rituals with us when the old ones come back too. 

-Jeff Segal

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Five From Lugo

Five From Lugo

It somehow happened that this week's newsletter is focused entirely on women: Gina, mothers, Sefika. And we wanted to keep the trend going with Meri Lugo. Meri is the GM at Little Serow, my neighbor, and a woman of great taste (and kindness). We asked her to make another list to keep us out of the vicious hamster wheel of mass media.

Jeff's wife, Julia (another badass woman), described Phoebe's list from the other week as the smartest thing we've ever put in the newsletter. Hope you enjoy another copy and paste situation from a brilliant woman.

  1. I don’t know when we’ll all be able to revel in live music again, so I find myself returning to T-Pain’s legendary and surprising Tiny Desk Concert from 2014 -- he imbues his club bangers with vulnerability and humor.
  2. I’ve been trying to wean myself off Amazon purchases for a while, and it seems more prudent than ever to support smaller vendors. This is one sobering reminder why.
  3.  It’s hard to not fall prey to the endless Instagram scroll, but I always delight when I happen upon a Kate Baer poem. She’s able to tap into what it’s like to be a woman, a girl, a mother --  a human being. Her new book of poems comes out in November and I can’t wait.
  4. When I don’t have the wherewithal to read, but can’t bear to listen to anymore news-based podcasts, I’ve been turning to Phoebe Reads A Mystery. Phoebe Judge, from the excellent Criminal podcast, reads a chapter per episode of classic mystery novels – Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and such. Her voice keeps me company while I do the seemingly interminable dishes. 
  5. If I’m going to lose half a day falling down a Youtube wormhole, I can’t think of a better world to get lost in than Li Ziqi’s. The NYT’s amazing Tejal Rao just penned her own quarantine-inspired ode to the Chinese Youtube star, who grows, forages, preserves, and ferments her own food in an idyllic countryside farm. The sparse music and lush scenery feel positively escapist to this apartment-dweller.  
^thank you Meri! (other words by Rebekah Pineda)

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Finding Meaning In Wine

Finding Meaning In Wine

Does wine matter at all? I mean that seriously, not as a bullshit rhetorical opening. That question has pulled at me, skimming the surface of my consciousness, for the past 15 years. In many ways, I've devoted my life to it. Wine has taken my money, commandeered my memories, dictated my friendships, and monopolized my attention ever since this one night where I scribbled out a tasting note on a napkin at a little wine bar in New York.

But it's easy to think that wine is meaningless. It many ways, it is. It's something that washes down meals, it gets you drunk, it's what happens when a bunch of grapes sit in a container for a while and start to fall apart. It's a beverage. And that's what I think about when I question why I've devoted my life to a beverage. 

The past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. My friends are hiding out with their families wearing masks, learning how to homeschool their kids, and registering for unemployment benefits. We may be undergoing a period of societal change (less gathering, less restaurants, more individualism, more social unrest) that could last for a long time. And that's led me to question wine and its meaning again.

Here's where I've ended up, at least for right now: I don't know that wine has to have meaning. Maybe it just is. I love it, I love the people who make it, I love the people who sell and champion it, and I love that other people love it like I do. And maybe during times like this, that love is enough.

- Jeff Segal

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Will Natural Wine Survive The Tariffs?

Will Natural Wine Survive The Tariffs?

There's been plenty of ink spilled about natural wine's demise in recent months, most notably Alice Fiering's poetic piece in the newspaper of record. And while the vast majority of the world has never heard of natural wine and even most wine drinkers still have no idea what it is, there's certainly danger to natural wine being posed by corporate giants co-opting the term and not its ethos. 

But there's a much bigger threat to natural wine right now and that's the tariffs set to go into effect next month, which could essentially double the price of all European wines. The natural wine world is up in arms about this right now (at least on Instagram), which makes sense. Entry price points for natural wine are already steep AF. There's essentially nothing available below $15, which could soon become $30. The market of consumers looking to spend $30 on a single-use item in a category new to them is probably quite small. And the beautiful heart of natural wine, the $20-$35 bottles from places like the Loire Valley and Beaujolais and Sicily and Rias Baixas, could become legitimate luxury items. One of the core ideals of natural wine is that real wine should be drunk by regular people. That's hard to uphold when pet nat costs $60 a bottle.

But natural wine will survive the tariffs precisely because of that ideal. The only way to keep US demand for these wines from becoming a flatline (yes, Overnoy and Rougeard buyers, we know you'll keep buying) will be through cooperation between producers, importers, and retailers/restaurants. Producers will need to work with importers to keep prices in line and not just turn around and sell all their wines to the UK, Sweden, Japan, and [insert hot natty wine market here]. Importers, who will likely be the hardest hit by the tariffs, will need to slim down and get creative and focus on relationships. And retailers and restaurants will need to rethink buying and pricing to make sure their customers don't feel like something they love was suddenly stripped away.

But that cooperation will happen (and already is) because natural wine still operates as a human to human business. Conventional, industrial wine producers, importers, and buyers don't have the flexibility to lean on relationships. For better or worse, they are businesses built on maintaining bottom lines. And for those corporate giants that have ventured into natural wine, this all should serve to triage the MOG. We're having phone calls every day with our importers and producers to work together to keep the containers moving and it's all because we share a common vision.

But that doesn't mean that things will stay the same. For a brief moment, let's appreciate the fact that we've been able to drink incredible, unique wines from around the world made by real people at price points that many can afford. And while the golden age of real, honest wine may be ending next month, we're all going to work together to duct tape this shit until some saner policies come into place.

- Jeff Segal

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